Tag Archives: Eagle

“The last necklace made by the Neanderthals” included eagle talons and is teaching us about our ancient cousins

A new study reports on the first discovery of eagle talons being used as ornaments by Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula (today’s Spain).

Imperial eagle falange with cut marks from Cave Foradada.
Image credits Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

Eagle talons are considered to be one of the first (if not the first) elements that Neanderthals used to make jewelry from. The practice was documented to be quite common and widespread throughout Southern Europe, based on archeological evidence from between 120,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Researchers have now found evidence of the same practice in the Iberian Peninsula, at the Foradada cave in Calafell, Spain. This is the most recent piece of its kind found, and the first one to be discovered in the region. The findings show that the Neanderthal practice of using of eagle talons in jewelry was much more widespread (both geographically and through historical time) than previously assumed.

Among the last of its kind

“Neanderthals used eagle talons as symbolic elements, probably as necklace pendants, from the beginnings of the mid Palaeolithic”, notes Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, a researcher at the Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA) and the study’s lead author.

At the site, researchers unearthed the left leg bones of a Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila Adalberti) from 39,000 years ago. Marks on the bones suggest that the bird was retrieved and processed with the intent of making pendants, as the marks are indicative of efforts to remove the talons. By the looks of the marks, and analogy regarding remains from different prehistorical sites and ethnographic documentation, researchers determined that the animal was not manipulated for consumption but for symbolic reasons.

The findings correspond to the châtelperronian culture, typically-seen in the last Neanderthal groups in Europe. The châtelperronian culture was in full swing as our ancient cousins made contact with modern humans moving in from Africa and the Middle East. Juan Ignacio Morales, a researcher in the program Juan de la Cierva affiliated at SERP and signer of the article, presents this use of eagle talons as ornaments could have been a cultural transmission from the Neanderthals to modern humans, who adopted this practice after reaching Europe.

Eagle talons are the oldest ornamental items discovered so far in Europe. The team explains that they’re older even than the seashells modern humans (perforated and) wore while still inhabiting Africa. The current study deals with the most modern such talon piece from the Iberian Peninsula — where the last Neanderthals in Europe lived. To the best of our knowledge, this is “the last necklace made by the Neanderthals”, according to Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

The paper “The Châtelperronian Neanderthals of Cova Foradada (Calafell, Spain) used imperial eagle phalanges for symbolic purposes” has been published in the journal Science Advances.

The Dutch Police will train bald eagles to hunt drones out of the sky

The Dutch National Police (DNP) plans to launch the most metal anti-drone program in existence: they will train bald eagles to take down flying unmanned threats. They’re also planning to equip them with armored talons.

It’s going to be a world-first for law enforcement, DNP officials say. In a statement released on Sept. 13, they announced that the DNP is the only police force in the world at this time who will include birds of prey in its done defense arsenal. The announcement comes at the end of a one-year testing partnership between the DNP and Guard from Above, a private company based in the Hague that trains raptors to attack drones in flight.

The company’s chief executive officer Sjoerd Hoogendoorn says the project is “a low-tech solution for a high-tech problem”. He and Guard from Above’s chief operating officer Ben de Keijzer have pooled their experience to bring avian terror on unwanted drones — Hoogendoorn’s expertise is in private security while de Keijzer cares for and trains the birds.

The tests were so promising that the police force recently purchased juvenile bald eagles which it plans to train for this purpose. The birds have a wingspan of around 3.3 feet (1 meter) right now, but they’ll grow to between 5.9 to 7.5 feet (1.8-2.3 m) in adulthood. That’s a lot of bird, and it seems they’re naturally out to get drones in the first place.

Image credits US Fish & Wildlife Service.

“The drones are pretty much the size of a bird of prey, so smaller birds on the ground aren’t likely to mob a bird of prey when it’s flying – but larger birds are, especially when it’s around their nests,” reports the National Audubon Society’s Geoff LeBaron.

“The birds of prey are having an aggressive interaction to defend their territory from another bird of prey.”

This instinct will be enforced through training, so the eagles will see the drones as pray and engage them accordingly. And, just as they capture prey and bring it to their nests to feed, the birds will not only hunt the drones but also take them a safe distance away from crowds.

Michael Baeten, operational manager for the DNP, told AFP that the birds are “one of the most effective countermeasures against hostile drones” the force has at its disposal. Their arsenal includes several other methods as well, such as electromagnetic pulses and laser technology.

“What I find fascinating is that birds can hit the drone in such a way that they don’t get injured by the rotors,” LeBaron added. “They seem to be whacking the drone right in the centre so they don’t get hit; they have incredible visual acuity and they can probably actually see the rotors.”

The same tough skin on the eagles’ feet that protects them from the efforts of their usual prey should also be solid enough to ward off any small drones’ propellers. But larger drones might prove more dangerous, and the DNP said that the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) is working on designing special “claw protectors” for the birds — klauwbeschermer in Dutch — that will keep the eagles safe while hunting.

LeBaron says that the extra protection is welcome, but doesn’t think the birds will need it.

“Their method of attack is always going to be to hit it in the middle of the back; with the drones they perceive the rotors on the side and so they just go for the rear.”

Here’re two birds (one mature eagle and one juvenile) going at it: